Interviewed by: Kabya Ghosh
IMM: So when was the band formed? Who all were the original members?
Vasu: When I first met Abhinanth Kumar (Swarathma’s co-founder and ex-bassist) I immediately hit it off with him sharing my compositions and at the same time learning while making songs with him. Meanwhile I was closely watching ‘Antaragni’ a Bangalore band and was very inspired by those musicians and their coming together to make music. I realized that I would also enjoy playing and making music with other like-minded people, so that I could expand my creative space by exploring more than what I could do alone. There is a special joy that I always experience (mostly on stage) while playing with my band. The fun is when we come together and ‘make’ music right there at that given moment. We might’ve practiced many times but if we don’t connect, music doesn’t happen in our own hearts. But with my band so far there hasn’t been a single show where I’ve not experienced that, and this is what has driven me to form and keep playing in this band. The original line-up also had Arjun on violin. Pavan who played percussions is still with the band. Montry (drums), Varun (guitars), Sanjeev (violins) and Jishnu (bass) joined over the years.
IMM: You guys have a fascinating name! What’s the story behind the name?
Jishnu: The name Swarathma came from one of the ex-band members, Abhinanth Kumar. He wanted a name that was more than just a cool word. He wanted a name that meant something. The name ‘Swarathma’ came from his mind. Of course, it stuck. The idea is for our music to be the soul of the note, or perhaps notes from the soul. We would like to continue to make music that is honest and from the soul.
IMM: How would you define your sound to a first time “Swarathma“ listener?
Jishnu: I would like to define the sound of Swarathma as the sound of young India today: the voice of a generation that respects is roots but is unafraid to question the norms. We try to bring this attitude to our music. We have a distinct Indian sound, but we bring together influences from all over the world.
IMM: Tell us some o f your experiences while touring the UK for Soundpad
Jishnu: Being a part of the Soundpad was an eye-opening experience for the band. Not only was it special as it was one of our first international shows, it was a wonderful learning experience. In India we have some set ideas of how bands work and we always seem to think that bands in the UK and the West in general have it a lot easier. That notion was shattered- in fact it is much harder for bands in the UK as there are just so many great bands all over! Every venue has shows happening every day, where 5-6 bands play! That means no soundcheck time and a relentless schedule of being on the road constantly. We learnt a lot about how to put up a great show under stress, how to win over an audience that does not understand your language among other things. In short it was a truly memorable experience for the band.
IMM: Your live gigs showcase variety o f Indian folk elements, starting with the dress up to the “steed” that adds a rather eclectic and enjoyable experience. Who conceptualized this?
Jishnu: Well, I guess at the back of our minds, we always wanted to showcase the India that we know and all of the live elements that you see are born of that attitude. The idea of the steed or Ghodi as we like to call her was an idea that Vasu had in 2008 when we were about to go onstage to play for the finals of the Radio City Live contest. We knew we had a fighting chance to win in, but we wanted to take it to the next level. That’s when Vasu arranged for the kacchi ghodi, a traditional horse prop that dancers in Rajasthan wear. The song we use it for is called ‘Pyaar ke Rang’ and it fits with that Rajasthani vibe too. The thrill comes from being able to showcase an element from India’s rich folk traditions and making it a contemporary element of a music performance. The same thing goes for all the musical folk elements we use, the costumes and the stage talk. We are Indian and unabashedly so. But we’re open to the world and what it has to offer – kind of like the youth of India, at large.
IMM: What are some of the issues (if at all would your new album deal with?
Jishnu: Topiwalleh is second studio album, on the heels of our eponymous debut that we released in 2009. As you can imagine, we’ve come a long way since then. Each album is a step up the ladder for any band. With this album the onus of songwriting was shared by all the band members, for the first time. The reason is that when the current line-up came together in 2007, and began work on the debut album, most of the songs had already been written. This song sees personal influences of all band members seep into the sound.
The outspokenness of the album is the reason we decided to call it Topiwalleh. Each track is a slice of personal experience or a snapshot of society as we see it. Note that we do not take a moral higher ground, or claim to be right. The songs merely talk of life as we see it. The concept of the album does stem from the fact that speaking out on issues that bother us (media sensationalism, child sexual abuse, in-your-face-consumerism) is a great source of relief!
How we connect as individuals is personal to each band member, I suppose. Some of us are more politically aware than others. While some of us may be turned on by the lyrical nudge-nudge-wink-wink, others may groove to the reggae feel of the song. So it is for each of the songs. How you relate to a song is unique to each band member.
IMM: How has your song writing evolved since the release of the first album?
As for the new sound of the new album, it is safe to say that it has definitely evolved. We’re surer of ourselves as musicians and individuals. It reflects in the way we’ve played. One thing we were sure of is to achieve a great quality of production. So we saved up to go to one of India’s best studios (Empire Audio Centre, Mumbai). We had a great (albeit harrowing in parts) time recording it, and really hope it comes out the way we’ve intended it.
IMM: What are some of the plans that the band has for the future?
The major chunk of the work for the year – which is record, mix, release the new album has already happened. We are now focused on promoting the album through a slew of interesting contests that the band is running on the social media channels. We are also planning on a music video and touring more to smaller towns and areas where we haven’t played before to showcase our music and our stage act.
IMM: Which are some of the Indian bands that you guys think can take the scene to the next level?
There are many young bands that are taking themselves and their music very seriously and that is really heartening to see.
Parvaaz – a psychedelic blues band with Sufi tinges is definitely one to watch out for.
Agam – is a Carnatic rock act that is making waves
Anvi – is a band from Mysore that is about to break through to the big time
La Pongal – is a band that blends Tamil folk with contemporary sounds
IMM: This is your space … Say anything and everything to your people!
We would like to thank our fans who are more our friends than anything else. Thanks for staying with us and supporting us for all these years. You guys are the reason why we do this and are deeply grateful for your love. See you at a concert soon!